Denison Organsational Culture Survey FAQ

What is Organisational Culture?

Organisational culture is the underlying beliefs, values, and assumptions that are held by members of an organisation, as well as the practices and behaviours that exemplify and reinforce them. An organisation’s culture is developed over time as a way to survive and succeed.

Simply put, culture is the way things are done around here.

Why does Culture matter?

Culture matters because we experience its effects on performance every day. Culture shapes our experience and perceptions of our work and our organisation.

There is now a large body of evidence that links culture to organisational performance and effectiveness. Many organisations are recognising the need to manage their culture with the same skill and attention they give to their strategy, their financials, and other key performance measures.

Culture vs Engagement: What’s the difference?

While ‘culture’ is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which shapes how people feel and behave, ‘engagement’ focuses on whether an employee feels emotionally connected to their work and organisation. 

Engagement measures tend to ask questions that are internally focussed, such as I am passionate about my work. Culture measures are more interested in exploring the ‘why’ that passion does or doesn’t exist, and so ask questions about how the employee perceives the organisation to be operating. For example, Authority is delegated so that people can act on their own.

One way to think about the difference, is that engagement is a ‘symptom’, while culture is often the ‘root cause’ of that symptom. While engagement is a good predictor of individual performance, culture is about the ‘collective’ experience and has a stronger connection to organisational performance.

Why we use the Denison Organisational Culture Model

Over the past 30 years numerous models have been proposed to help organisations analyse and develop their organisational culture. Dr Daniel Denison is widely recognised as one of the first researchers to demonstrate the link between organisational culture and performance. He has studied the cultures of high and low performing organisations for more than 30 years and has found that four core cultural traits – MISSION, CONSISTENCY, INVOLVEMENT and ADAPTABILITY – have a significant impact on how organisations perform.

The rigorous academic underpinning and simplicity of the Denison Culture Model provide a very solid foundation for cultural development activities. While the concepts and cultural traits are by no means unique to the Denison model, what is unique about this model is that it integrates them into a common framework and allows for a assessment process that measures these important traits simultaneously.

Want to know more about the four cultural traits? Click below

The link to performance

The Denison Model has a proven link to organisational performance through solid academic research. In various studies, the research has shown that building a positive culture through focusing on the traits identified in the Denison model provides organisations with many competitive advantages, including in the following areas:

  • Financial performance
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Discretionary effort
  • Efficiency & productivity
  • Customer loyalty
  • Innovation
  • Sales growth
  • Staff engagement
  • Staff attraction & retention
  • Quality
  • Capacity to manage change
  • Workplace safety

What are we benchmarking against?

The raw data collected through the Denison Organisational Culture Survey is compared to a database drawn from 1,000 other organisations and more than 600,000 individual responses, with the results then presented as a percentile score.

This percentile score indicates how well your organisation scored in comparison to the other organisations in the normative database. 

We recommend using Denison’s global database rather than a regional or sector specific benchmark for several reasons.

  • The research has demonstrated that the core characteristics of high-performance are consistent across industries and regions.
  • Limiting comparison to ‘like-organisations’ generates the risk of replicating the shortcomings of a particular industry or creating a false sense of security by eliminating comparisons to world-class organisations.

The benchmarking process also ensures that we can understand which items of the survey warrant particular attention. Across the 48 items, some are easier to do than others. Benchmarking each item ensures we don’t get distracted by what might be perceived as ‘false’ positives or negatives in the raw data.

Do low results mean we have a ‘bad’ culture?

No. The survey isn’t designed to diagnose ‘good’ from ‘bad’. When assessing culture we are interested in the degree of clarity, alignment and confidence staff have in the way their organisation operates. Higher percentile scoring typically means there is greater clarity, alignment and confidence, while lower scoring indicates a degree of confusion or uncertainty in terms of how our culture operates.

It is important to recognise that the data isn’t designed to ‘diagnose’, but rather to support us to have honest conversations about cultural strengths and weaknesses, and the changes required to support an improvement in culture. 

What about ‘Beliefs and Assumptions’ at the heart of the Denison model?

At the centre of the Denison model are “Beliefs and Assumptions.” Each of us has deeply held beliefs about our organisation, our co-workers, our customers, our competitors, and our industry. These beliefs and assumptions, and their associated behaviours, shape the culture of our organisation.

The Denison Culture survey isn’t designed to measure these beliefs and assumptions, but rather provides an opportunity to surface, discuss, explore and possibly re-think them by clarifying and measuring the behaviours that they produce.

Are the results more about local areas or the organisation as a whole?

The survey asks people to indicate their level of agreement with 48-items (4 items for each of the 12 indexes in the Denison Model) in terms of how they perceive their organisation as a whole and the way things a usually done.

Despite this, we recognise that people are likely to zoom in or out as they responded to the survey items. For example, it is likely when answering the items related to Vision people reflect on Vision at an organisational level, while items about Team Orientation might be more reflective of their local environment.

While some may say that it is therefore hard to draw definitive conclusions from the data, that is not the intention of the survey. Organisational Culture is a complex and nuanced concept and becomes increasingly more so as an organisation increases in size. The data collected through the survey is designed to aid honest conversations and thoughtful actions that will help create meaningful improvements in culture and the way organisations operate.

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